Wildlife Watch: Monitoring Lake Champlain's landlocked Atlantic salmon

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GRAND ISLE, Vt (WCAX) Every fall,landlocked Atlantic salmon in Lake Champlain make their way back to the streams where they hatched. To check on the health of the salmon population, Vermont Fish and Wildlife gathers samples to collect data and provide brood stock for future generations.

Ike Bendavid joined the department's David Gibson in Grand Isle where crews were gathering specimens to study.

Reporter Ike Bendavid:: Whats going on here today?
David Gibson: This time of year, in the fall, the landlocked Atlantic salmon make their runs up the streams and rivers for their spawning season. And Hatchery Brook here has a very nice return of salmon, and what we have done is create a return trap to hold those salmon who are coming up stream for us to use at the hatchery for the next year.

Reporter Ike Bendavid: So, fish that are raised here at the hatchery are technically coming back?
David Gibson: Exactly. Salmon have a unique characteristic where they were stocked right here off the ferry right here in Grand Isle. These salmon do what is called imprinting on the water, where they were originally stocked at.

Reporter Ike Bendavid: So, they are smarter then you think
David Gibson: Yes.

Reporter Ike Bendavid: So, the fish, you get them in the trap. What happens after that?
David Gibson: When they are in the trap we close the door so they can't get out and then we net the fish from the trap to a work tub where we have a sedation mix in the tub that calms the fish down, makes it easier for me to put each individual fish on the board to get the biological data, all the information we need, and select the ones that go back to the hatchery for eggs and milt for next years fish.

Reporter Ike Bendvaid: So, what's the decision process of that?
David Gibson: Larger females that are holding eggs. Younger ones, we release those so they don't go through a more stressful situation being held up in a hatchery. Also the condition of the fish, external condition. You will see as we work on the fish, some of them have sea lamprey wounds on them. If they are severe open wounds, we are not going to take them up to the hatchery. We will quickly get those back into the lake.

Reporter Ike Bendavid: So, that is a lamprey wound?
David Gibson: That is correct. You see the circle pattern, and they use their very sharp teeth to pull into the fish.

Reporter Ike Bendavid: I see some with yellow tags. What do the yellow tags mean?
David Gibson: The yellow tag that we put into the salmon gives us two things. It has a unique number on it for each fish and if these fish are caught by anglers next week, next year, two years from now, and they send a number back with the date that they caught it, the location they caught it, and the length and weight, that gives us important information to compare with the data we took from the fish when we tagged it.

Reporter Ike Bendavid: How important is this work for the salmon and Lake Champlain?
David Gibson: This whole project here, and other hatcheries taking salmon out of the lake and on the New York side, it's part of a Lake Champlain management program where it's a cooperative with Vermont Fish and Wildlife, New York Department of Environmental Conservation and U.S. Fish and Wildlife. All three work together to create and maintain the fishery for Lake Champlain anglers.